Glencore said to be eyeing Simandou North
Guinea is home to some of the richest and easily exploitable iron ore fields outside of Australia's Pilbara region and top producer Vale's Brazilian home base.
In May, the Guinea government and Rio Tinto (LON:RIO) and its partners – China's Chalco together with the World Bank – inked a game-changing $20 billion deal for the southern section of the Simandou iron deposit.
At full production Rio's Simandou concession would export up to 95 million tonnes per year – that's a third of Rio's total capacity at the moment – and would catapult Rio past Vale as world number one.
Rio Tinto held the licence for the entire deposit, but was stripped of the northern blocks in 2008 by a former dictator of the country, one of the poorest in Africa.
BSG Resources acquired the concession later that year after spending $160 million exploring the property and in 2010 sold 51% to Vale (NYSE:VALE), but the Guinea government withdrew the mining permit in April, accusing BSGR of obtaining its rights through corruption.
The west African nation plans to start a new auction to reissue rights for the BSGR-Vale half.
The Wall Street Journal reports high-level representatives of Glencore travelled to Conakry earlier this month and met senior government officials, with a view to develop Simandou north.
Glencore has little exposure to iron ore, the commodity that has long represented the bulk of profits at the Swiss-based company's peers.
CEO Ivan Glasenberg has in the past said the company is not interested in greenfield projects requiring investment of multiple billions of dollars.
At the time of the Vale deal BSGR envisioned a 50 – 70 million tonnes per year mine boasting 66% to 68% Fe grading to be built at a cost of $8 billion – $10 billion.
That project was designed to export from the deep sea Buchanan port in neighbouring Liberia to the south, while the Rio agreement requires a building a new deep-water port near the capital Conakry in the north of the country and a 650km rail line to transport the ore.
BSGR has repeatedly denied any accusation of wrong doing and is seeking arbitration at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.
Rio Tinto has filed a lawsuit against both Vale and BSGR for what it qualifies as a "steal" of its previously-owned concessions.
Vale is expected to re-apply after being given the go-ahead by the Guinea government, but diversified giant Anglo American (LON:AAL) this week said it has no plans to take on a project of this size.
World number one miner BHP Billiton in partnership with India's Arcelor Mittal is also said to be interested in the deposit, even though BHP is in the process of selling its stake in a nearby iron ore project called Nimba.
The benchmark iron ore price was pegged at $95.3 a tonne on Friday, up 1.7% on the day, a near one month high. The steelmaking raw material is down 30% in value year to date.
Image of Guinea postcard by Ekaterina Didkovskaya